After several months of gruelling combat, Russian forces on the front lines of the fierce struggle for control of eastern Ukraine have announced their first victory.
The mining town of Soledar in the Donetsk region is now under the hands of Russian forces, according to Moscow’s defence ministry on Friday, despite Ukrainian officials’ denials that the town has surrendered after some of the war’s fiercest fighting.
One of the bloodiest battles of the conflict was the one for Soledar. With only 10,000 residents before the war, the town was quite small, and its strategic importance is up for debate. However, the Kremlin is likely to breathe a sigh of relief if it is determined that Russian soldiers have taken control of it.
Throughout the conflict, disagreements between the well-known Russian Wagner paramilitary group and the regular Russian forces have grown, and a fierce turf war has developed over who gets to claim credit for the progress.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner and a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has emerged in recent months as the public face of the conflict while also voicing vociferous disapproval of the Kremlin’s military commanders.
Earlier this week, he declared victory in Soledar and boasted on social media that his soldiers were in complete control of the town. However, the Russian Defense Ministry chose not to make an official announcement and made no mention of the Wagner fighters’ contribution.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated this week that hardly any walls in Soledar are still standing. He spoke of the neighbouring countryside as being scarred by missile attacks and covered in Russian bodies, painting pictures that were nearly post-apocalyptic.
In an early Friday announcement, Moscow finally claimed to have taken the town.
According to Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the defence ministry, “On the evening of January 12, the liberation of the city of Soledar was completed, which is important for the continuation of successful offensive operations in the Donetsk direction.”